Laarn to say no posted on 05 April 2024

If you are good at your job, you may get a promotion/higher compensation, but you will definitely get more work first. If you are not careful, you will likely find yourself doing too much and burn out.

This is what happened for me at Google while working on YouTube Ads. I became a choke point for all the questions/changes around changes in monetization (e.g. Can we enable this type of ad in this condition? Can we target users in this context? How do I implement this new monetization policy? etc.). At some point, I was spending all my time helping other teams perform such changes – with no time left for me to work on my other projects.

This happened for two reasons:

  • I happened to be good at that job. I went through all the tedious work around understanding this old business logic, figuring out the technical intricacies of the legacy code and could answer most of the product/technical questions on top of my head
  • I was too nice – I would constantly agree to helping other people/teams

I had the chance to have a good manager back then who identified this issue and helped me solve it. The solution was two fold:

  • Saying “no” to requests – It took some effort on my end to understand and process that saying “no” isn’t about being mean but better balancing priorities for the company and myself. Once you understand that it is what is best for the company overall (and that it’s what everyone does), it gets much easier. Pushing back is perceived differently depending on where you grew up – e.g. it’s much more accepted in the USA than it is in some European/Asian countries. But regardless of culture differences, this is something you will have to do as you become more senior.
  • Figuring out an alternative – People still needed help even if I wasn’t immediately helping them. The solution here was to write more documentation about recurrent questions and helping coworkers ramp up on this domain such that they can cover for me.

Looking back, this made a lot of sense since it allowed me to free my time to work on other important projects – this is why it was better for Google overall.

Last but not least, you have to find the right balance between helping others (and building relationships with others) and keeping time to execute your own projects.

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